Global Financial Crisis, Mortgage Tsunami, Housing Bubble Can All Be Traced to Federal Government Intervention to Create Affordable Housing
Excerpts from "The Role of Government Affordable Housing Policy in Creating the Global Financial Crisis of 2008," a 26-page report released yesterday by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform:
The housing bubble that burst in 2007 and led to a financial crisis can be traced back to federal government intervention in the U.S. housing market intended to help provide homeownership opportunities for more Americans. This intervention began with two government-backed corporations, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which privatized their profits but socialized their risks, creating powerful incentives for them to act recklessly and exposing taxpayers to tremendous losses. Government intervention also created “affordable” but dangerous lending policies which encouraged lower down payments, looser underwriting standards and higher leverage.
Finally, government intervention created a nexus of vested interests – politicians, lenders and lobbyists – who profited from the “affordable” housing market and acted to kill reforms. In the short run, this government intervention was successful in its stated goal – raising the national homeownership rate. However, the ultimate effect was to create a mortgage tsunami that wrought devastation on the American people and economy. While government intervention was not the sole cause of the financial crisis, its role was significant and has received too little attention.
The real tragedy of the government’s affordable housing policy is the impact on average Americans, particularly those of modest means. Millions of these borrowers, who were supposed to have been helped by federal affordable housing policy, have now been forced into delinquency and foreclosure, destroying their asset base, their credit, and in some cases their families. For example, Latino homeowners, who once appeared to be among the most frequent beneficiaries of affordable housing policies, are now the victims of the policies that their political representatives in Washington once championed.
The consequences of these policies have also brought the entire global financial system to the brink of collapse, destroying trillions in equity and untold numbers of lives. It is essential to reexamine the borrow-and-spend, high-leverage policies that became prevalent in the mortgage market as a result of well-intentioned-but-reckless decisions made by elected officials on behalf of the American people.
Washington must reexamine its politically expedient but irresponsible approach to encouraging higher levels of homeownership based on imprudently small down payments and too little emphasis on borrowers’ creditworthiness and ability to repay their loans. Without such a return to fiscal discipline and responsibility, we will continue making the same mistakes that led us to the current financial crisis.
HT: Tom Sullivan